Gentlemen’s Dub Club

by James Wijesinghe

James Wijesinghe had a chance to sit down with Johnny Scratchley of Gentlemen's Dub Club and talk about Rick & Morty, the nature of the dub genre, and what it means to be a gentleman in 2018.

Photo credit: Zona Reggae

Your upcoming album Lost in Space was partly inspired by a Rick & Morty binge. If you could be one character from the show who would you be?

I’d be the pickle, Pickle Rick.

If past album The Big Smoke comes from the city, and Dubtopia from the tropics, what pushed this move into space?

It felt like a natural step, it wasn’t so much the tropics it was more like a tropical island in the sky, so we’ve been ascending.

What can we expect from the project?

We put it together as a bit of a concept. I came up with the story and refined it with the keyboard player, then we took that story with all its individual sections to the rest of the band. It was a nice natural process. We went down to Wales for a writing week and we’d never really done it like this before. It was cut off from everything; no phone, no internet, no nothing. We got down there, there was the rhythm section and we were all together. I came up with this story and we had nothing pre-planned other than that, so we just sat around spoke about it got a vibe together then just started jamming out. I’d come up with melody lines and chorus ideas just on the hoof. Then we’d record the sessions and go back and listen to them so things came out of that. It felt really nice in that week we wrote everything together so its all one body of work, it’s all connected very strongly. Then we went back two months later to the same room in Wales and recorded the whole thing. It was super natural, very easy. Obviously we’ve been doing it for a while so we’re used to working with one another, it breaks down any creative boundaries.

You also recently released Pound For Pound, a joint album with producers The Nextmen. How did that come about?

We didn’t approach it in the same way at all to be honest. It was more of a sound system theme. We wanted to make some great tunes and didn’t even know we were going to make an album to begin with, we just started off making a couple of tunes together then it felt like an obvious step to put it all together as one piece. It was a very natural thing there was nothing squeezed about it. It was great meeting different creative heads. I suppose one nice thing was getting a lot of collaborators in the project. It meant that it was very fresh and different from any of the material we’d ever done before.

It’s fully collaborative, stacked with features and was even crowdfunded. Do you think dub is fundamentally a collective and shared genre?

That’s a great question mate! Dub essentially comes from communication and connection. It’s quite spiritual. Although it was overtly Rastafarian when it first came around in Jamaica, it doesn’t need to have a specific religion behind it to make it spiritual. It’s a very primal thing, the beat and tempo, the focus on the bass is almost like a feeling of being in the woods – it’s really fucking raw. It’s a very raw sound, it communicates with the soul rather than just the ears and that essence still runs through it very strongly – we can feel it. What that essence brings is an individual connection but then it also gives people a chance to share that as a group. Back in Jamaica in the 60s, 70s and 80s, dub was a part of sound system culture. That culture is all about community and giving a voice and allowing them to communicate free of ridicule and belittlement so people can speak their mind. I think those still run through it, it’s a love. No one who listens to just pop music wants to buy a King Tubby vinyl, it’s a choice. People go there because they love it and so it means that when you meet likeminded people who have the same attitude there’s an incredible community.

It features members of legendary New Zealand dub groups Shapeshifter and Fat Freddy’s Drop. What UK dub collectives can you recommend?

In the UK there’s a lot of dub. We got inspired by sound system crews who make it their life and their community. Mungo’s Hi-Fi are a great example of that, considering they make their own records, they’ve got their label, that’s a really beautiful rounded collective. Then there’s a lot more of the traditional sound. I suppose with Mungo’s you get people like Electrikal and Sinai, but there’s also a community within the UK that’s more true to the original roots of the Jamaican sound system culture and that’s what we fell in love with and we’ve been welcomed into that community incredibly. That’s people like Iration Steppas, Channel One, Vibronics, Giant Tubby, King Earthquake Sound and Young Warrior. They’re creating incredible music as well as being there every weekend with their sound systems, lugging them in and out of venues and bringing the good vibes to the community. There’s a huge amount in the UK, there often feels like there’s a natural step between bands and producers and sound systems crews. Both of them need each other in the current market, but I feel there needs to be more harmony between the two and more collaboration will lead to better music. Let’s keep it going in that underground way.

I know you’re also Outlook Festival’s Creative Director. What advice do you have for budding promoters and people looking to work in music events?

Just find something that you love and do it yourself, don’t wait for anyone else.

Three years ago you booked Jurassic 5 for Outlook, this year Chali 2na featured on Holla My Name. What’s it been like moving from an endearing fan to sharing stages and tracks with idols?

It’s incredible man, it really is an amazing experience to go through. I feel pretty surprised that I’m still doing it and that the passion is still there so its just a real pleasure.

Lastly, what do you think it means to be a gentleman in 2018?

Well there’s a lot that’s the same as it was in the Victorian days, but there’s a lot of out-of-date stuff probably. But really its be kind, be polite, always be open to people that you meet and try and live a positive life.